Woods Lake

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,354 - 11,592 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Woods Lake
Fee: none
Attractions: Wilderness area




The Woods Lake trail is in the Mountain Division of the Uncompahgre National Forest near Telluride, Colorado. Beginning at the Woods Lake Recreation Area the trail climbs steadily up the Muddy Creek drainage, cresting a ridge near an elevation of 11,600 feet, before descending to the Navajo Lake trail at the mouth of Navajo Basin. With the climb back to the ridge from the Navajo Lake trail the round trip elevation gain for the hike comes out to 3,109 feet. Enroute the Woods Lake trail has connections with the Elk Creek and Wilson Mesa trails which provide multiple options for longer backpacking excursions and day hikes.


To get to the trailhead turn onto the Fall Creek Road off of Highway 145 between Placerville and Telluride. The Fall Creek Road, which is also marked as County Road 57P, is paved for the first few miles before turning into a nice graveled road that is suitable for passenger cars for the rest of  the 9 miles distance from the highway to the Woods Lake Recreation Area.


From the trailhead parking area there is a social trail that leads over to the Woods Lake trailhead a hundred yards of so away.


The trail starts out through a pleasant grove of quaking aspens before traveling around the northeast end of Woods Lake where Dolores Peak provides a scenic backdrop to a tranquil early morning setting.


After passing the lake the trail begins climbing and shortly comes to a 4-way intersection where a sign points out various destinations. To continue on the Woods Lake trail keep going straight ahead as indicated by the arrow for the Elk Creek trail. The branches to the left and right are for spur trails that lead to the main Wilson Mesa and Lone Cone trails. The Lone Cone spur can be combined with the Woods Lake Tie trail for a nice loop around the greater area of the lake.


From the 4-way junction the Woods Lake trail climbs steadily through stands of aspens and conifers. Somewhere along here, about a half mile from the trailhead, the trail passes into the Lizard Head Wilderness Area.


After following a course that was mostly straight for a little more than 2 miles the trail reaches the start of a series of switchbacks. The first of the switchbacks make long sweeps back and forth but as the trail works its way higher up the mountain the switchbacks become much more compacted.


A glance at the elevation profile of the trail shows how the switchbacks help it to maintain close to the same grade even when the slope of the terrain is increased.


The trail gets pretty rocky as it passes the remains of an old homestead or prospectors cabin where the elevation is closing in on the 11,000 foot mark. Just past the 3 mile point the trail comes out of the trees and climbs a steep alpine slope where it comes to its junction with the Elk Creek trail.


From the Elk Creek junction the trail levels off quite a bit and turns into more of a traverse that takes it around the shoulder of the mountain to where near the 4 mile point it crosses the saddle of a ridge.


From the saddle the trail crosses the boundary into the San Juan National Forest and continues wrapping its way around the 13,451 foot peak on the left as it heads in the direction of Navajo Basin. Dramatic views of Mount Wilson (14,252 feet) and El Diente (14,160 feet) come into view as the trail progresses. On this day in late August the peaks were both shrouded in clouds that would occasionally lift enough to reveal a fresh dusting of snow left from the previous nights storm.


The trail finishes up by dropping steeply down to its junction with the Navajo Lake trail at the mouth of Navajo Basin and about 3/4 of a mile from the lake. A hike to the lake and back will add about a mile and a half to the total round trip distance. If you have never been to Navajo Lake before it would be a shame not to check it out after getting this close.


The crux of the Woods Lake trail is probably the steep climb back up to the ridge. Once you make it back to the Elk Creek trail junction its all downhill to the trailhead. The Woods Lake Recreation Area from where the trail begins has nice restrooms that appear to be kept very clean. At least one of them has an outside water spigot. The campground has picnic tables, fire grates and tent pads. The sites can accommodate large RVs and there is even an area that is set aside for equestrians. The sites are currently going for $18/night. As far as the Woods Lake trail goes it is a nice alternative route for getting into the Navajo Basin and the Wilson Group of Colorado 14ers. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.